Commemorating Black History Month

21 October 2021

Tiger Bay, now known as Cardiff Bay, is the oldest multi-ethnic community in Wales and is home to Wales Millennium Centre and Welsh National Opera. Shirley Bassey as well as jazz singer and founder of Black History Wales, Patti Flynn are among the prominent individuals born in the area.

The Black Lives Matter movement not only made us reflect on our lives but also the contribution of others within our communities. Earlier this month Wales’s first black headteacher, Betty Campbell, was immortalised in bronze with a special statue in Cardiff’s Central Square. Her pioneering work championing equality and diversity became recognised internationally and she was partially responsible for creating Black History Month.

To commemorate Black History Month 2021, we shine a light on those working and performing in the arts scene in Wales.

The Official Opening of the Sixth Senedd – which saw the first woman of colour ever to be elected – featured a performance of Ymuno [To Join], a song by Lily Beau (who took Twitter by storm following her performance at the 2021 Cân i Gymru – A Song for Wales) and Eädyth Crawford. Eädyth, along with her sister Kizzy – who are both making waves in the Welsh pop scene - composed the music for two pieces in our Creating Change series - Shreya Sen Handley’s The Pledge and Edson Burton’s Death of a Fool. The series also sees works by Cameroon-born Wales based writer Eric Ngalle Charles and Bristol based Miles Chambers who said: 

As a high art, opera can do so much for the black struggle. We need to disassociate its racial past and create opera which reflects the multicultural society we live in, not only to appease the surmounting injustices which surround black culture but to maintain a future for opera.

With that in mind, our new commission, Migrations, explores migration and its various forms, composed by Will Todd and written by six writers from diverse backgrounds.

On stage, Black opera singers play a substantial role in shaping the operatic scene.

From Jamaica to New York and Wales, bass-baritone Sir Willard White is considered one of the most respected opera stars of the last 40 years and has joined WNO to perform roles such as Osmin in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, Zaccaria in Nabucco and the title role of Boris Godunov. He returned to Wales in 2013 to perform in concert with WNO Orchestra at Wales Millennium Centre.

Our Spring 2022 Season sees us welcome Elizabeth Llewellyn for the very first time, making her Company and role debut in the title role in Janáček's Jenůfa, following her return to the Metropolitan Opera in Autumn 2021.

From established artists to promising young performers, several have graced our stages over the years: Chanáe Curtis and Themba Mvula (The Consul, FREEDOM Season) and most recently WNO Associate Artist Isabelle Peters who made her Company debut earlier this Season as Berta in The Barber of Seville and who can also be seen in our Rearrange series.

For the third video in our Rearrange series, director Rebecca Hemmings chose the iconic Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot and created a video to highlight racial injustices unseen by many, performed by Roland Samm. This was launched on 1 October to mark the beginning of Black History Month.